By Sophia Obrecht
Following Tegan Francis’ exploration of what Feminism means to her, I thought I’d lay bare my own take on Feminism because while great mind do think alike, every perspective is a little different and here’s mine.
Let’s Focus on the Basics
Like any social movement in history Feminism came into existence with a specific mission or focus. While the Abolitionists focused on abolishing the slave trade, and the Chartists focused on the universal male suffrage, Feminism grew from the focus on women’s rights, whether it was the fight for women’s vote, equal pay, or the right to own property and to divorce. And, like other social movements in history, whether the civil rights movement or those that fought and continue to fight for LGBTQ+ rights, Feminism has come to represent the pursuit of freedom, equality and liberation of men and women.
At its core Feminism represents a challenge to the unfair and biased status quo of society.
Still feminists have suffered from particularly negative stereotypes, they have been branded as radical bra burners, hysterical spinsters, and distinctly anti-men throughout the 20th century and even in this the 21st century. But to me Feminism should be seen as a decidedly rational and reasonable movement; it should be seen as unashamedly pro-women, distinctly pro-men, and increasingly pro trans- people. I say this because at its core feminism serves to challenge traditional gender roles, roles that have placed women in one box and men in another; stereotypes linked to biology, which ignore individuality and play into the intense and often subconscious social constraints placed on men and women.
The Feminist perspective allows us to challenge what a woman and a man should be according to our past and present patriarchal societies. It serves to level up the playing field and encourage men and women to look beyond how they believe they should act, who they believe they are, and the opportunities they feel they can peruse.
Men and Women Unite
Feminism involves both men and women with the backbone of the movement championing equality, and while some women might not always want to admit it, we need men in order to achieve this equality. In fact, a key milestones of the movement, that is the equality of the sexes, came about in the 1972 court case of Moritz v. Commissioner. Moritz, an unmarried man had been denied a tax deduction for the cost of being a caregiver for his mother simply because he as a man was not considered a caregiver. The Internal Revenue Service argued that the law stipulated a tax deduction could only be given to women or formerly married men. Ruth Bader Ginsburg a specialist on gender law and now a Supreme Court Judge argued that it was unfair to discriminate on the basis of Moritz’s sex and that he should be allowed the caregiver deduction whether he was a woman or man. The judge ruled in his favour and in doing so opened the door to challenges other laws which discriminated on the basis of sex, it also served to challenge the notion that only women could be caregivers.
So while women need men in order to further the cause for equality, men (although some might not realise it yet) need the Feminist movement to liberate them from biased social demands, toxic masculinity and outdated ideas of what it means to be a “real man”. By pushing for women’s rights, Feminism has allowed men to examine their own positions in society.
I would argue that a shift in femininity has increasingly allowed men to understand how media and culture have shaped ideas of masculinity.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that in challenging gender roles and femininity, Feminism along with the LGBTQ+ movement, has challenged traditional masculinity. In doing so the fight for equality has fostered discussions on men’s mental health issues, as well as the social pressures that men have and continued to face. For example, by asserting that a woman’s role is not just in the home, in other words that she should have the opportunity to go out and become a wage earner with a successful career, we begin to question why a man must hold the pressure of being the main provider or breadwinner: we have begun to acknowledge that ideas of what it means to be a good husband and a strong man can create huge stress for men from all walks of society.
So while feminism has opened women up to opportunity, allowing them to be more aggressive, career driven and outwardly ambitions, something which would previously have been seen as unfeminine and vulgar, perhaps the movement has the potential to open men up to new ideas of masculinity and reset the intense gender roles in society.
The Path to Equality Never Did Run Smooth
Its’s clear that challenging gender roles is the key to unlocking the path to more women in boardrooms and the key to easing aspects of toxic masculinity in our society; it is the key to affording men and women opportunities to take on different roles in society. But changing the way we understand what it means to be a man and a women is easier said than done.
Change has to start in the way we raise and educate children, because it’s the small subtle gender differences and subsequently limitations we instil in our children that go on to foster and fire up the negative and limiting gender roles of our society.
For example, while dressing your daughter up exclusively in pink princess dresses, and your son exclusively in a fireman’s uniform might seem harmless at first, the issue is much bigger with far wider implications. Why must girls aspire to be princesses, play with dolls, fairies and soap making kits when boys are encouraged to play with Lego, toy cars, and science kits? Of course boys also play in the realm of make-believe but the last time I checked Batman and Iron man were also businessmen and billionaires by day.
While the way children play is far less black and white than just Barbie vs Action man etc., the subtleties of how toys and the differing roles within play are marketed to parents and children filters into how men and women are defined in our society. Some might tell me “you shouldn’t always take things so seriously” “boys will be boys and girls just love pink”…But however harmless they might seem, many children’s toys embody the everyday sexism: Whether it’s the objectification of women in society or this idea of masculinity equalling strength and sometimes violence, such representations come back to archaic ideas of gender and identity.
Feminism and the move to a more gender neutral society has the ability to redefine and reshape how we teach children to identify with their genders, that being a girl is much more than playing house and that being a boy is more than playfighting and action man.
Nature vs Nurture
Of course many will disagree with me, arguing that blurring of gender roles has led to a crisis of masculinity, a crisis of marriages, maternal neglect and so on and so forth. Many dispute claims that societal conventions shape gender identity, these people would argue that you can’t fight biology – gender roles simply reflect the different biological makeup of men and women.
In part I agree – the experiences of men and women are and will in part continue to be different! Whether due to our society’s traditional and patriarchal ways or because of biological differences which feed into how men and women are perceived and how we perceive ourselves. And while I think it would be unreasonable to strip men and women from their gendered identities completely, heck where would I be if I couldn’t call myself a strong independent woman and revel in the best aspects of womanhood, our gender identities should be less polarised, more individual, and for heaven’s sake far more balanced.
This does not mean men must stay at home all day with the kids and work part time, it means that they should be able to do so if they so choose without judgement. Shifting gender roles does not mean men should feel threatened as women move up the career ladder, they should welcome change and a female perspective at the top. In the same way equality should, though admittedly does not always, mean that women have access to any path they choose whether that’s staying at home, perusing a full time career, travelling around the world, being a CEO or whatever career they end up persuing.
Feminism means understanding women not by their capabilities to reproduce or their value based on their appearance but by their true human worth.
It means seeing men are more than a provider or protector, but as complex human beings with just as many life stresses and even limitations as women. Feminism means valuing all forms of work, career, and life choices that women and men want to pursue, it means that specific jobs, roles, and characteristic should not be ascribed to a specific gender.
Feminism means opportunity and it means choice, and the sooner we understand the human similarities between men and women, that we all suffer from the social and emotional, physical and financial stresses of life, the closer we might come to seeing each other as equals in the home, at work, and in politics.